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Price I Have to Pay


Three weeks had gone by.

For the most part, Hycinth and I ignored the elephant in the room, the upcoming ceremony, preferring instead to stick to less emotionally-charged subjects. But if anything, three weeks of lighthearted banter and fun just further cemented the truth of what I was going to lose.

Because no matter how much closer we became, I could still feel Hycinth’s resistance. She wouldn’t let go of the wall between us. Over the course of her time here, I’d shown her everything I was and everything we could be together.

It just wasn’t enough.

Ever lifted his beer, eyeing me speculatively over the bottle. “What’s going on?”

I stiffened. Hycinth, Gwen, and Willow were having a girl’s night, so Ever and I had made our way to a local bar. I needed the release. I needed to take the edge off and planned to get completely wasted. Ever’s too-intuitive gaze remained locked on me, but talking about my problems was not on the agenda for this evening. Maybe if I acted like I had no clue, he’d move on.

I shrugged. “Nothing. Just enjoying a night out.”

“Don’t bullshit me,” his answer came fast.

Shit. I threw back a clear shot, swallowing the liquor. I tried again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

His eyes narrowed. “You know exactly what I mean. There’s a rift between you and Hycinth. It’s tangible. The others haven’t said anything, but if I feel it, they probably can as well. It wasn’t there the night you marked her, but now it’s back.”

The knot in my stomach clenched. I turned up another shot and let the alcohol burn down my esophagus. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t change anything. We’re still going through with the Claiming Ceremony.”

Ever ground his teeth together. His eyes flashed. “Once again, you’re acting like an ignorant prick. Don’t make me beat the shit out of you.”

“You say that like it’s possible.” I scoffed, picking up another shot glass. I tipped it in his direction. “You’re good...but you’re not that good.”

His hand snaked out and wrapped around my wrist, stopping the trajectory of the drink to my lips. A muscle in his jaw twitched. “Yeah, I understand it’s almost damn near impossible for you not to act like an ass, but humor me, and give it a try.”

I sighed heavily and set the drink back down. He released my wrist.

“She withdrew back into her protective shell the morning after the shifter bar. When we’re together, she sometimes forgets and lets down her walls. But they always come back up again. I haven’t pushed her because I just don’t want to hear her say the fucking words again.”

“So what are you doing about it?”

I gave an irritated grunt. “You don’t think I’m trying?”

He cocked his head to the side. “Are you?”

A warning growl came from my throat, my canines emerging. He’d been my best friend for long as I could remember. For that reason alone, he had leeway to speak his peace when other wolves didn’t, but he was walking a razor-fine edge with this line of questioning.

“Sorry,” his voice softened, “I know this is hard for you. But it’s for that very reason I keep pushing.”

We sat in silence. I stared off into space, not really seeing anything. After a moment, Ever spoke quietly, “She needs to know the truth.”

I met his gaze. “So, you think the better solution is just to break her completely? Reveal her life for the lie that it was and shatter every fond memory of her mother and father? I’m a coldhearted bastard, but even I would have a hard time stomaching that.”

Shifting his weight in his chair, Ever leaned toward me, his expression intense. “You can’t have it both ways, Leander. You want to mate with her, but you don’t want her to experience the devastation of the truth. If she marks you at any point, she’s going to see those images. What was your plan for that? Maybe it’s better to get it over with now, so you can both move forward.”

“I planned on blocking those memories from her,” I muttered. My head dropped back, my eyes closed. I exhaled heavily. “If I thought it would make a difference, maybe...but it won’t.” I raised my head and found his eyes. “Besides, I fucking tried already.”

His eyebrows shot up. “What do you mean you tried?”

“The night she and I went to the treehouse. I asked her then if her feelings would change if she knew the reason I killed her parents. Fuck, Ever, I was explicit. I told her I didn’t just randomly kill wolves on a whim. She’s seen enough of our pack to know I spoke the truth.”

His fist tightened around his beer. “What did she say?”

I let out a grunt of frustration. “She said and I quote, ′The reason won’t bring them back.’”

I threw the shot back and slammed the glass against the table.

“She doesn’t care enough about me—” my voice choked off, the truth of those words making it hard for me to breathe.

Forcing air into my lungs, I continued, “—or the sacredness of the bond to want to know my reasoning. I offered the knowledge to her, Ever. I would have fucking told her. But she didn’t want to hear it!”

“But why...why wouldn’t she want to know?” he persisted.

"She was really clear it didn’t fucking matter why I did it because the outcome remains the same—they’re still dead.”

“Fuck,” he breathed. He picked up his beer, taking a long swig.

Fuck was right. “And to top it all off, after our heartwarming conversation, she ran from me, no longer able to stomach being around me,” I added bitterly. “No. I don’t think bringing up old wounds is going to help the situation. I’m just trying to make her see the truth of what we can be together. What we were meant to be.”

Ever’s shoulders slumped. He didn’t have the answer any more than I did.

I barked out a humorless laugh. “You know what’s really fucked up? In fulfilling my duty to this pack, I condemned myself to forever lose my mate.” I threw back yet another shot. My vision swam a little bit. I’d lost count of how many I had. “Maybe I deserve it.”

“You can’t believe that,” Ever sucked in a sharp breath.

I forced my eyes to focus on him. “You know the blood on my hands. Maybe it’s just the price I have to pay.”

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